Rapier from Killiney, Co. Dublin

Rapiers are bronze weapons distinguished by long and narrow blades and simple butts for the attachment of handles with rivets. Rapiers developed from daggers in the Early and Middle Bronze Age. They are known from Ireland, Britain and continental Europe. When they measure less than 300mm they are refrred to as Dirks. In Ireland most rapiers have been found in wetland locations, in bogs and rivers, with no known association with a grave. There are three main types.

Group I have a rounded midrib which can be bordered by grooves, ribs and channels. Most have two rivet-holes for plug rivets and in some instances there was a central rivet-notch on the heel.

Group II have blades with a central ridge producing a flattened lozenge cross-section with plain or bevelled edges. The blades are usually plain but can have lateral grooves or bands on the butt-ends of the central ridge. The butts are generally trapezoidal with two rivet holes.

Group III have long triple-arris blades. This consists of a median ridge running from the butt to the point and two ridges flanking this space, on either side. These extend from the sides of the butt, above the shoulder, swinging inwards to the central ridge and extending parallel for most of the length before converging close to the point. The blade cross-section can be fluted, if there is a concave area between the ridges, or if flat, can appear to be ridged. The butts tend to be triangular and have usually two rivet-holes, but some have four. Hilt-marks are usually omega-shaped or triple-arched, when they occur.

Group IV rapiers date to the Penard pahse of the Late Bronze Age.

Further reading
Burgess, C.B. and Gerloff, S. 1981 The Dirks and Rapiers of Great Britain and Ireland. Prähistorische Bronzenfunde, 4.7. München, C.H. Beck’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung.

Ramsey, G. 1995 “Middle Bronze Age metalwork: are artefact studies dead and buried”, in J. Waddell and E. Shee Twohig (eds) Ireland in the Bronze Age. Dublin, The Stationery Office, 49-62.

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